MONDAY, March 14 — Rory Makem, a seasoned Irish musician and son of legendary Irish singer Tommy Makem, leads an Irish sing-along tonight at Dublin Square. Rory Makem regularly performs with Irish music trio Makem and Spain, a staple group in the Irish music festival circuit. City Pulse sat down with Makem to talk about his family and his musical career.
Your father is a legend in traditional Irish music. What was it like growing up in that household?
Growing up at our house seemed quite normal at the time. We did all the things other kids did. We had homework, chores, sports. We played a lot outside. But looking back, I realize how lucky we were. Every night when we would sit down to dinner, we would have a an unscripted history lesson. I don’t think my father had any grand scheme, he just liked to talk about Irish history, literature and music. There were always the songs. He was quite like my granny in that he was always singing. To me, it was quite normal. I first began to realize the scope of who he was in 1984 at the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem reunion concert at Lincoln Center in New York. We all went down for the show and it made a giant impact on me. That is when I really became interested in the history and songs.
How early did you start performing music? When did you decide you wanted to make a career out of it?
In 1988 I was away at college. My brother, Shane, had a roommate that worked at an Irish bar in Massachusetts and asked if we would do a gig there. This was in November, and the gig was early February. We got guitars for Christmas and banged out a bunch of songs. We hadn’t given it any thought before that. I think that’s when the seed was planted in my head that it was important to pursue this avenue and help keep a small part of the Irish culture, that was so important to generations past, alive.
Tell me about your partnership with the Spain brothers. How did you meet up with them? When did you decide to start working together?
I first encountered the Spain Brothers when they were playing a gig at our local Irish bar in my hometown. It was unusual to see guys so young performing the songs I loved so much. We would then have big music parties that went to the wee hours. In 2001, we had some changes in the band and thought it would be fun to join forces. And that was that. We’d been playing together for a few years by that point, so the transition went well.
Do you have a personal favorite tune from the Irish catalog?
I would have to say my favorite song from the Irish cannon would be my father’s “Four Green Fields.” It meant so much to him. If you were to see him perform it, you would be struck by the power of what you were witnessing. There are others, but that song stands head and shoulders above the rest for me. There are some songs that have been accepted into the Irish-American cannon that rub me slightly the wrong way. I got this from my father. A few songs have come from late 19th and early 20th century Tin Pan Alley and Vaudeville. It’s not the songs themselves but where they came from and what they represented. It was the lampooning of the Irish in theater at the time. The shamrocks and shillelagh and begorra. My father felt this was putting the Irish down. He felt the Irish were proud, intelligent contributors to the world and would have none of that “oirish” nonsense. It rubbed off on me.
You just released “Four Pounds a Day” in January. How does this album compare to your other albums?
Our last project was called “Sessions.” We brought in some of our favorite folk musicians and did old American folk songs with them. It took quite some time to put it together and is a project we are very proud of.
(With “Four Pounds a Day,”) we felt it was time to get back to what we do, so we recorded some old Irish and Scottish songs. It’s a straightforward and simple production — the way they were meant to be — and we’re thrilled with the result.
Do you have any other projects on the horizon?
We always have something in the works. As the way our business dictates, we’re all doing a few solo projects but keep the band as our main focus. The summer will bring the Irish festival season and in October we’ll be bringing a group of Americans over to Ireland to show them my favorite places and sing songs all week.
Irish pub sing with Rory Makem
7:30-9 p.m. Monday, March 14
Advance tickets are available online until 4 p.m. today; any remaining tickets will be sold at the door starting at 6 p.m.
327 Abbot Road, East Lansing
(517) 267-0410, singingfestival.com